2012 marked the 30th anniversary of Twang Fest. Or thirty-first. We never know exactly when year one was or we’re just bad at math. Either way it’s fine, we began this journey while young and are still gathering here in the woods each year to hunt, laugh, sing and just be together. In the past three decades, so much has changed for all of us, but maybe more importantly, so much has stayed the same-that’s why we’re here.
It’s always hard to explain to outsiders what Twang Fest is, what it means and why we continue each fall. It’s far more than a bow hunting trip, yet that’s where it all started and that remains at its core. But if it were only that, I know in my heart we wouldn’t have continued every year for thirty additions. Life would have moved in and we’d move on as well. It’s the hunt and everything else that keeps the calendar marked each November to gather again.
This journey started while in college-young nimrods in the woods taking a break from classes each Sunday morning for dark drives north from La Crosse to Jackson County. An entire weekend of camping and hunting would be better it seemed, and Twang Fest was born. Quickly after the first addition, we moved into the real world-graduation and new careers, families, changes of jobs and in later years sadly, losses to our family. That was the start and those were the changes and yet we still made time to make it all happen again and again.
Huddled in a blind the first night I made a note in my journal about all the things that have remained the same. Twenty years ago the fest began very similarly-my friend Mike and I started a day early and like then, it was raining-didn’t matter, we were so happy to leave the work world behind and start this. On that date, the rain turned to snow overnight and by the next morning the “Great Halloween Snowstorm” was born. Even through 20 plus inches of snow, all the Twangfesters arrived at some point and we carried on. This year, raining oak leaves replaced snow, loosened by the gentle breeze and landing with a thud on the forest floor (amazing how quiet a woods can be). Like twenty years ago, the murmur of the interstate miles away and a distant train horn were background sound only pierced by warning squawks of squirrels. Yep, being a participant in the hunt, being in the woods and soaking it all in will always remain.
Over the years, “everything else” has included impromptu mid day football games, a mock ridge wedding (coinciding with the first Twangster getting hitched), skits of all sorts (including political debates), documentary footage, scrap paneling bowling, late night hay rides, golf, Friday night steak feeds, campfires and of course music. I sometimes shake my head in amazement at the talent that dresses in camo each year and provides entertainment at Twangfest. We are fortunate to have such gifted musicians in our group and it never fails that as soon as the bows are unslung, guitars are out and the music jam begins. There are almost an equal amount of bow and guitar cases lined up in the camper and each have its place during the weekend.
As in all things that one looks so forward to, it goes by too quickly. Other obligations pulled one brother away at a time in this 30th year, and by the final hunt Sunday morning, only three made the trip to stands in the dark. Maybe appropriately, for the last day is a bit melancholy anyway and all too soon everyone has left and all that clings to Twangfest is the dust cloud on the ridgetop dirt road- we’re off heading in all directions back home.
The statement by close friend Norbert maybe summed up some of my feelings as well and kick started how I wanted to write about Twangfest this anniversary year:
“It is a sacred part of my life I don't like to share. …I just want to keep it away from people who don't understand and never will.”
For those of us who do understand and always have, we will continue until we no longer can lace the boot strings or pull back the bow or strum the guitar…. for everything Twangfest is, most importantly-it remains a sacred part of our lives.